"I feel like I'm stuck in the movie 'Groundhog Day.' "

That's how Center City activist Paul R. Levy described his sense of deja vu at yesterday's SEPTA hearing on the transit agency's proposal to raise fares 31 percent and to slash service 20 percent by July to fill a $129-million budget hole.

"I come back again and again to this same hearing," said the president of the Center City District, which aggressively promotes downtown business vitality. "Over and over, we all say the same thing: 'Don't cut service; increase it! Don't raise fares beyond inflationary costs . . ."

For years, Levy said, the Legislature has ignored that plea.

Last-minute magic by Gov. Rendell, who borrowed $412 million from federal highway funds, avoided a 2005 "SEPTA doomsday."

Rendell has been mum on final-hour magic this time, so SEPTA officials say that if the state fails to find $100 million, the transit agency will be forced to finally unleash its doomsday plan.

If the state finds the funds, SEPTA could raise the remaining $29 million through 11 percent fare hikes, with no service cuts.

Pamela Clarke, of the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, said the doomsday scenario would have a devastating effect on area hospitals' around-the-clock operations - from the 30,000 health-care workers who rely on public transit to the patients who must use it to get to medical care.

C. Allison Givhan, of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, said fare hikes would put public transit out of reach for many elderly people, impeding access to vital services.

SEPTA's doomsday plan would hike a $2 cash fare to $2.50, a weekly TransPass from $18.75 to $25, and a monthly TransPass from $70 to $95.

SEPTA said it expects to lose 40 million of its 200 million annual passengers if it unleashes doomsday. *